By Tendai Kamhungira
United States (US) has taken a tough stance on Zimbabwe, calling on the political leaders to immediately initiate national dialogue that must be facilitated by a neutral third party.
This comes as President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week called all 2018 presidential candidates for dialogue at the State House.
However, MDC leader Nelson Chamisa snubbed the meeting but insisted he is genuinely willing to enter into formal negotiations if certain conditions were met by Mnangagwa’s government.
Among his demands are mediation by a neutral third party recognisable to Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and the African Union (AU), including a requirement that all “prisoners of conscience” be freed, and that there be an immediate return to the barracks by the military.
In response, Mnangagwa said the MDC leader “risked missing the bus”, if he did not pitch up for talks.
However, in a hard hitting statement issued on Tuesday, the US government said national dialogue must be held immediately, further condemning the Zimbabwean government’s excessive use of force during the protests, where at least 12 people were reported dead.
“The United States calls on all sides to come together immediately in national dialogue.
“The dialogue process must be credible, inclusive, and mediated by a neutral third party.
“In order for such a dialogue to succeed, the Government of Zimbabwe should end its excessive violence and intimidation, immediately release the civil society activists who have been arbitrarily detained, and hold security force members responsible for human rights violations and abuses accountable.
“We also reiterate our call for the Government of Zimbabwe to enact promised political and economic reforms,” Robert Palladino, the deputy spokesperson in the US Department of State said in a statement.
The call for dialogue also comes after the church in Zimbabwe demanded the leaders to get to a round table to iron out problems bedevilling the country.
Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) last week called for a meeting of the political leaders in Harare. However, Mnangagwa did not attend the meeting, resulting in people questioning the political leaders’ sincerity in having the talks.
While Mnangagwa wants a broader multi-party initiative, Chamisa — who disputes results of the July 30 polls — prefers a dual engagement on the grounds that he is the only one among all the other presidential elections who is contesting results of last year’s elections.
At last week’s church meeting attended by government ministers, members of the opposition parties, and delegates from industry, the security sector, civil society, human rights groups, trade unions, as well as international observers, including some ambassadors, the ZCC general-secretary Kenneth Mtata said national dialogue was the church’s answer to the crisis.
He said the ZCC, which hosted the meeting together with the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, and the Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe Africa had recognised that “the nation finds itself at the cross-roads,” and said “the churches had made their voices louder regarding the urgency and necessity of a national dialogue”.
Many observers, just like church leaders, believe national dialogue will help recoup the country from the political and economic problems.
Zimbabwe is facing a legitimacy problem after a contested presidential election. This, coupled with the economic challenges has been raising tensions amongst the citizenry, which saw people taking to the streets last month.
The State security responded in a harsh manner, with reports of rape, torture and murder characterising the brutal crackdown.
The world condemned the State heavy handedness, with the US also expressing concern over the developments.
“The United States remains seriously concerned about the excessive use of force by Government of Zimbabwe security forces since January 14, which has resulted in at least 13 deaths, 600 victims of violence, torture or rape, and more than 1 000 arrests…
“The Government of Zimbabwe’s use of violence against civil society and imposition of undue Internet restrictions betray promises to create a new Zimbabwe,” the US government said. DailyNews